The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a petition by the Hindu Sena seeking a complete ban on the BBC in India for its documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, PTI reported.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh said that the court cannot impose censorship, according to Bar and Bench.

“Completely misconceived, how can this be argued also?” the bench asked. “You want us to put complete censorship…What is this?”

The first episode of the BBC’s two-part documentary, titled India: The Modi Question, was released on January 17. It alleges that a team sent by the British government had found that Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat when the riots took place, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence against Muslims.

The documentary also reveals for the first time that a report commissioned by the United Kingdom government had stated that the riots had “all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing”.

The second part of the documentary, which focussed on Modi’s record as prime minister, was released on January 24.

On January 20, the government had used emergency powers available under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, to issue directions to YouTube and Twitter to block clips of the documentary from being shared. The foreign ministry had described the documentary as “a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative”.

In the plea to the Supreme Court, Vishnu Gupta, the president of the Hindu Sena, and Beerendra Kumar Singh, a farmer, had claimed that the BBC has been biased against India and the country’s ruling government, according to PTI.

“India’s overall growth has picked up momentum since 2014 under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi,” the petitioners argued. “[This] is not being digested by the anti-India lobby, media, particularly BBC. Therefore, the BBC has been biased against India and the Indian government.”

During Friday’s hearing, advocate Pinky Anand, representing the petitioners, questioned the timing of the documentary.

“Kindly see the background when the documentary has happened,” Anand told the court, according to Live Law. “Today you have a position when you have an Indian as the prime minister of the UK. India is rising as an economic power.”

However, Justice Khanna said that the plea has no merit.

Other petitions

On February 3, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to produce original records of the decision to block the BBC documentary.

The court passed the order on two petitions filed by Advocate ML Sharma and journalist N Ram, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra. It will hear the case next in April.

In his plea, Sharma argued that the Centre’s blocking order is “malafide, arbitrary and unconstitutional” and that the court should examine the documentary and act against persons who were, directly and indirectly, responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Ram and Bhushan told the court that tweets about the documentary were taken down by the Centre and submitted that the Centre has not put the blocking order on public domain.

Also read:

  1. Explained: What emergency powers has India used to block links of BBC’s Gujarat riots documentary?
  2. The European Union investigated the 2002 Gujarat riots – but is refusing to make its report public